Little Italy’s Nora Lightens Up for Summer

My appreciation of Nora begins upon approach, ending a leisurely walk through a neighborhood that feels unchanged by time. Crossing the red bricks of Murray Hill Road to the restaurant’s corner front door, my husband and I put on our masks before entering—a reminder of current day events.

I accepted an invitation to meet Nora’s new chef, Patrick Kenny, and to try some of his recent menu additions. Nora’s intimate space has been a go-to night out for us, though it had been a while since we’d been in. In fact, this evening would be our first sit-down dining out experience since the Covid-19 closures and I was nervous for a few reasons, not the least of which were the contentious online conversations on the subject of dining out. I was eager but also worried that things would feel awkward. Honestly, this was not the case and we had a really nice time.

We viewed the full menu on our mobile phones using a QR code. This was a response to Covid-19 but, it’s actually pretty smart and a few other area restaurants are also taking this approach.  There were other diners in the place situated nearby but not so far away that it felt strange. The restaurant staff who took care of us were wearing masks, and this is the hardest thing for me. As a people person, I want to see smiles and expressions. But, safety first, of course.

The restaurant is emerging from its Coronavirus closure with optimism, and an eye on reinvention. Chef Kenny joined the staff just a few weeks ago and is putting a personal stamp on the menu, with plans to evolve his offerings with the seasons while remaining true to the familiar “Italian modern” style for which Nora is known.  Owners John and Vicky Depiore have been the stewards of Nora, so named for the daughter of the previous owners, since 2018.

Kenny feels most at home in a kitchen. “I started baking with my grandmother when I was two. I made breakfast in bed for my parents when I was four, and I won a baking competition in third grade for blueberry muffins,” he said, reminiscing of his preternatural beginnings. “I’ve always been around food.”

Those looking for typical Italian flavors will find some reliable selections, but the ambitious chef will introduce new dishes such as skate and sea asparagus, no doubt influenced time spent cooking in coastal Florida. I liked the variety.

The Fritto Misto with calamari, rock shrimp, and scallops is lightly breaded and fried but in a manner that does not overpower it. The clams in a white wine & garlic sauce beg to be sopped up with bread. Seafood lovers should try both.

It’s hard for me to pass on red sauce, so I tried Nora’s arancini with marinara. We shared the night’s special Caprese salad, garnished with caviar-like balsamic vinegar pearls—traditional flavor with unexpected pops of texture.

The deeply flavorful lobster ravioli is made in house. Kenny creates layers of flavor by using the lobster meat in the filling and infusing the pasta dough with roe. The short rib gnocchi, appearing on the menu as radice birra galleggiante, has flavors that mimic root beer and vanilla. It’s unique and memorable.

We finished with the indulgent Buckeye Mousse—chocolate ganache layered with peanut butter and chocolate mousse. Equally good, was Chef Kenny’s creamy Panna Cotta, loaded with three kinds of berries.

For us, this visit officially ushered in the return of summertime dining and a welcome feeling that things will soon seem back to normal. We could not enjoy their cute patio due to a torrential rainstorm that was rolling in, but the ambiance out there is just perfect on a hot summer night.

Nora is open Tuesday-Saturday and accepting reservations inside and outside. You can enjoy Nora at your own home and call for take out.   Get details at noracleveland.com

–Lisa Sands